The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has recently announced a $500-billion plan to build a business and industrial zone called the NEOM project, within the framework of the country's ambitious "2030 Vision."
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Saudi Arabia Ambassador H.E. Walid Bin Abdul Karim El Khereiji said that the project will focus on nine specialized investment sectors to help generate a prosperous economy and facilitate the making of a vibrant society.
Commenting on Turkish-Saudi bilateral relations Ambassador El Khereiji said the leaders of the two countries are keen to further develop and strengthen relations, while underlining the necessity of intensifying cooperation between the two countries especially in light of the turbulent regional conditions.
Praising the satisfactory level of cooperation in the fields of security, military, science and culture, the ambassador said the mutual visits between officials on both sides and the coordination in the various fields are proceeding in full swing.
Regarding ongoing discussions about "Saudi Arabia's return to moderate Islam, " which started after Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman's recent remarks, the ambassador stressed that there are types of Islamic culture that are not based on fixed rules of the sciences of Shariah; they are based on weak hadiths, spreading confusion and contributing to the promotion of stochastic deviations that harm religious discourse. He also underlined his country has always worked to correct religious and scientific concepts and expect cooperation from ally countries in this field.
Can you inform us about the NEOM project that was announced in recent days? Will it make contributions to Saudi Arabia's economic vision for 2030? If so, what are some of its details?
Neom is a huge development project launched by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the crown prince, and comes within the framework of the ambitious aspirations of the 2030 Vision, transforming the Kingdom into a leading global model in various aspects of life.
The project will focus on nine specialized investment sectors: The future of mobility, the future of biotechnology, the future of food, the future of technical and digital sciences, the future of advanced industrialization, the future of media, and media production, the future of entertainment, and the future of living, which is the mainstay of other sectors.
Neom aims to be one of the most important economic and scientific capitals of the world. Its strategic location on the Red Sea coast, through which about 10 percent of the global trade movement takes place, will allow it to link three continents: Asia, Europe and Africa, and will be the first special region extended between three countries including Jordan and Egypt.
The project is a model of the "smart" city, which will include unique future technologies. His highness, the crown prince has announced that he is negotiating with major international companies including Amazon, Alibaba and Airbus to develop the technology to be used in the project.
In short, Neom will provide visitors with a unique lifestyle. As his highness, the crown prince said, it is a place for dreamers and will provide free opportunities for creative and talented people from all over the world to make something different and to reserve a place in the future of our kingdom.
Economically, the project will attract private investment as well as government investments and partnerships, while it will also be supported by more than $500 billion in the coming years by the Public Investment Fund in the kingdom.
Socially, the project aims to coexist with the people around the world. More importantly, the Saudi youth are going to be at the core of this project, which will also provide many job opportunities for our citizens.
In terms of how Neom would contribute to the achievement of the kingdom's vision for 2030, this will take place through three panels of the kingdom's vision: First, it will be the creation of a vibrant society with promising cultural characteristics, an environment that attracts Saudi and international talents. Secondly, it will generate a prosperous economy with business-friendly systems and attractive investments, redirecting funds to the kingdom rather than leaking them abroad and thus will achieve the third goal, God willing, to create an ambitious homeland using the latest digital technology, which will increase the efficiency of the government.
What does the kingdom expect from the project in terms of its impact on regional and global politics?
As for its impact on regional and global policy, Neom is a regional economic project. It is an open area to be visited by people from all over the world. The project will therefore increase rapprochement between the all people. It is expected that this will positively affect the relations of the countries participating in the project and, in theory, economic cooperation generally leads to political cooperation among states.
How do you assess the current relations between Turkey and the kingdom? In what areas can countries cooperate?
The kingdom and Turkey have good relations both at the bilateral level and at the level of cooperation in regional issues. There is coordination between the two parties in the regional files, for example, coordination of positions in Iraq and Syria.
The developments in the region have played an important role in the development of relations. It is in the strategic interest of the two countries to cooperate in order to stand together in the face of the various challenges that threaten the security and stability of the region.
The coordination council between the two sides is the framework that defines the course of bilateral cooperation. This includes political and economic cooperation in the fields of security, military, scientific and cultural cooperation, etc. The first meeting of this preparatory council started in Ankara on Feb. 8, 2017 and the next meeting will be in Riyadh; preparations are under way.
The leaders of the two countries are keen to further develop and strengthen relations, especially in light of the turbulent regional conditions we are witnessing, which necessitate intensifying our cooperation to defuse crises and the causes of conflict in the Middle East.
In this regard, the countries share many common political and economic interests, and both are members in many international organizations such as the G-20, the World Trade Organization, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)-Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation (COMCEC).
Recently, cooperation between us has reached remarkable levels, especially with the exchange of visits, at the highest level of senior leaders and senior officials, between the two sides. His Excellency President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited the kingdom more than once. This year for example, he visited Riyadh twice, in February and July.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz's visit to Turkey and his meeting with His Excellency President Erdoğan during his participation in the economic and Islamic summits held in Turkey in the past two years marked a qualitative leap in relations between the two countries.
I am pleased to tell you that we have made good progress in the draft agreements and memorandums of understanding, particularly in the economic sphere. There are, for example, the trade cooperation agreement, the technical and economic cooperation agreement, the tax exemption-exchange agreement, as well as the investment promotion and protection agreement. There is also an agreement between King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and its counterpart in Turkey in terms of our military cooperation, etc. In short, the cooperation between the two sides is still ongoing and we will advance it, God willing, in due course.
2018 will be the year of culture between Turkey and the kingdom. In the framework of this opportunity, what can Turkey and Saudi Arabia accomplish in the fields of tourism and culture?
Last year, the Kingdom signed two agreements with Turkey, one with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the other a memorandum of understanding between the Turkish Broadcasting Corporation (TRT) and the Saudi Broadcasting Corporation (STC).
This is in addition to an agreement between the Ministry of Labor and Social Development of Saudi Arabia and its counterpart in Turkey. Recently, an agreement for academic and scientific cooperation and exchange of experiences was signed between the Northern Frontier University and the universities of Istanbul and Ankara. Meanwhile, the coordination is underway in activating the rest of the cooperation items contained in the document of the Saudi-Turkish Coordination Council, including preparations for the Cultural Year in 2018.
In the tourism sector, I would like to point out that the number of Saudi visitors to Turkey from January to August 2017 has reached 492,000, of which 150,000 were in the holiday season in August alone. In this regard, last week, I participated in the event organized by the General Inspection Authority in Trabzon to coordinate our cooperation in this area. Two days ago, His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the chairman of the National Authority for Tourism and National Heritage, visited Istanbul to speak at the opening of "Islamic Heritage," organized by the Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture in Istanbul (ARESCO), which is part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
His Highness met with Tourism and Culture Minister Dr. Numan Kurtulmuş, and discussed with him a number of topics related to cooperation between the two countries in the fields of tourism and heritage, exchange of specialized heritage exhibitions, restoration projects, and development of museum exhibitions. Accordingly, it was agreed that the Saudi exhibition titled "Roads of Arabia," which is traveling around the world, Istanbul will be its next stop after the coming of Eid al-Fitr, God willing.
What I want to say is that the mutual visits between the officials on the two sides and the coordination in the cultural and tourism field are proceeding in full swing.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has indicated that he will "return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam," which has aroused great interest in the world. Can you explain this statement? What does "return to moderate Islam" mean?
This topic has already raised many questions about the concept of the phrase and what it means for the new Saudi Arabia. I am proud to say that this initiative has received a positive international and regional resonance even in Turkey.
On the other hand, I have noticed some views and opinions in the Turkish political and media circles that indicate a lack of understanding of the kingdom's position in this regard. I will not talk here about the opinions that espouse the conspiracy theory and link the kingdom to "hidden agendas" or "colonial projects," and other opinions, which go beyond reality into imagination.
However, I would like to say that, at this point, such individual voices will not affect the kingdom proceeding in its development march and they will not disturb the good relationship between the two countries.
With respect to the issue of moderation and social change, the idea is simply that the kingdom's leadership have visualized an economic and cultural vision for the renaissance of the country while, at the same time, fighting against ideas and exotic thoughts that hinder the development goals.
These extremist ideas entered our society after 1979 due to several reasons, one of which is the radical Iranian revolution, which awakened the religious discourse in Iran and was, in return, met with extremism in some of the Sunni communities.
The Kingdom has taken many steps to combat extremism and terrorism. One of them, for example, the establishment of the King Salman complex for Prophet Muhammad's hadith in Medina, which was directly ordered by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, who is highly keen to serve Islam from all faces. Such an initiative is important since it comes at a time where there is a need for scientists, scholars and researchers to study and publish the prophet's hadith, using scientific methods.
In my view, this is one of the necessities established by the intellectual, scientific and cultural shift that the Islamic world is undergoing today. There are types of Islamic culture that are not based on fixed rules of the sciences of Sharia; they are based on weak hadiths, spreading confusion and contributing to the promotion of stochastic deviations that harm religious discourse.
As we have always work to correct religious and scientific concepts, we expect the support and the blessing of our friends, and for proactive contributions in our journey of economic and cultural development instead of spreading rumors that are useless and serve only to tear the nation apart and spread hostility and hatred between people.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I thank you for this meeting and I hope that our cooperation will continue in a manner through which relations between the two countries will be strengthened so as to achieve the well-being and development of the two brotherly peoples.